The Citizen Science Soil Health Project

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2019: $24,800.00
Projected End Date: 01/01/2022
Host Institution Award ID: G215-19-W7501
Grant Recipient: Your Neighborhood Christmas Tree Farm
Region: Western
State: Colorado
Principal Investigator:
Elizabeth Black
Your Neighborhood Christmas Tree Farm

Information Products


  • Agronomic: barley, corn, grass (misc. perennial), sugarbeets, wheat
  • Fruits: apples, grapes
  • Vegetables: beans, beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbages, carrots, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), greens (lettuces), leeks, onions, parsnips, peas (culinary), peppers, radishes (culinary), rutabagas, sweet corn, tomatoes
  • Additional Plants: trees
  • Animals: bovine, equine, poultry
  • Animal Products: dairy, eggs


  • Crop Production: cover crops
  • Education and Training: participatory research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil quality/health, tillage reduction

    Proposal summary:

    The Citizen Science Soil Health Project: Does providing annual soil health testing, education and team-building lead to broader adoption of practices which improve soil health? Soil health tests and biological assessments of soil function are not readily adopted by Colorado Front Range growers to change management.  Front Range growers are familiar with the concept of “soil health”, but few have implemented soil health practices due to challenging agricultural conditions: a short growing season, high altitude, lack of late season or firm water, poor/alkaline/depleted native soils (1), and high weed pressure. Our Front Range conundrum is that while improving soil health will mitigate many of these challenges, these same challenges make improving soil health difficult to accomplish. The Citizen Science Soil Health Project is a grower-driven project which will use the collective knowledge of the diverse participating growers to apply local solutions to our soil health implementation conundrum.  The project will provide soil health tests and annual soil health scores for each participating grower, using the Haney/Phospho-Lipid Fatty Acid (PLFA) soil tests from Ward Labs.  During the first 3 years of our project, which are encompassed within this grant request, and continuing for 7 more years after that, participating growers will try to improve their soil health scores through management actions which align with their operation.  Annual questionnaires, meetings and classes will encourage team-building, collaboration and information sharing among participating growers.  Growers will make key project decisions such as their own soil management choices, timing and location of their own soil testing, the project’s class content, outreach and final report format.  Growers will be encouraged to act like scientists: decide what questions they want their soil tests to answer, document what they are doing, understand what their test results mean, change their management based on test results, and track their data to assess management decisions.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Increase knowledge about soil health and use of soil health tests by Front Range growers.
      • By 12/2020, our project’s number of participating growers will increase from 15 to 30.
      • By 12/2021, all participating growers will be able to identify 5 factors which could change soil health scores and 2 management practices which could increase their own soil health.
      • By 12/2021, 15 participating growers will implement an additional soil management practice to increase their soil health.
      • By 12/2021, 10 growers will purchase additional soil health tests at our reduced group research rate.
    2. Improve key soil health indicators of participating growers.
      • Growers’ soil organic matter, soil health scores and days/year of living vegetation covering fields will all trend upward by 2021.
    3. Strengthen connections between different factions of Colorado’s agricultural community.
      • By 12/2021, at least 5 growers will present information to the group on their soil health practices and 4 growers will participate in outreach events.
      • By 12/2021, participating growers will jointly approve a final report to Western SARE on the project’s 3-year level of success at achieving our objectives for our 10 year project.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.